September 18th 2014 | Scotland

Thoughts on last night

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 19 September 2014
ballots

It is now the morning after and Scotland has voted No to becoming an independent country. Around 55% of the population voted to stay in the UK.

The result was officially announced at the Royal Highland Centre – a building with a curious resemblance to an aircraft hangar – at breakfast time this morning.

The difference is of course that, unlike an airport, when the assembled crowd of media and politicians stepped into the building they had no idea what the destination would be when they came out. No one did.

The declaration hall was lined with counting tables, separating the binary choices on offer from two kaleidoscope campaigns. The whole world seemed to have sent an observer.

Actually it is debatable whether attending the count brings a witness any closer to experiencing democracy than any other parts of the campaign. Certainly the atmosphere in the building lacked any of the passion that marked the debate up until that point. In the moment, standing near ballots is not the important bit.

Clackmannanshire – a Yes stronghold – declared for No early and the news seemed to suck the energy from independence supporters.

In fact the most exciting moment before the bigger results were announced was a false rumour suggesting Alex Salmond had arrived, with the assembled masses scrambling like teens awaiting a boy band to the entrance, in the hope of a glimpse of the First Minister. After ten minutes waiting the group sheepishly returned to what they had been doing.

Throughout the campaign there was a nagging feeling that much of the media, as well as those campaigning, had not managed to grasp the difference between a referendum and an election.

Scottish politics turned upside down for three years and it took a long time for the media to familiarise themselves with the change in gravity, existing out with the ordinary left-right divide.

But by 6am it was clear that Scotland had voted to remain in the UK, with the official confirmation coming in around nine. The media wrapped up, checked they had what they needed and left.

So the stickers and the banners will be cleaned away. The crowds will eventually need to sleep. At some point, when the posters are taken down, people might be able to get a clear view through their windows again – though it is not yet clear what kind of Scotland they will see outside.

People are talking about the end of the campaign – and it has been a long campaign – but at this moment that sort of talk doesn’t make any sense.

With registration encompassing 97 per cent of the adult population the debate has been unique. The turn out was unprecedented.

It cannot carry on with the same intensity – nothing could – but equally the campaign cannot just end. If Scotland disengages again the campaign will mean nothing at all.

For the UK to survive beyond the next few election cycles, there is no doubt it must adapt. It looks like the demand for change in Scotland will bring reform to England and Wales too.

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg must deliver some version of what they promised and the SNP must help them. Electoral reform would possibly help too.

What will come next is yet to be seen. The campaign shook Scotland awake and the nation is still caught somewhere between dreams and reality – somewhere in the stage between rubbing its eyes and standing up to face the day.

Those that woke it – from the sides that used to be called Yes and No but are now just Scotland – must have a say in deciding what to do next.

Liam Kirkaldy